In preparation for Dr. Dorceta Taylor’s keynote address, students and faculty gathered in PAC 001 on Wednesday, Jan. 29 for a film screening and group discussion of the 2008 documentary “Trouble the Water” at 7:30 p.m. The film focuses on the racial, political, and socioeconomic issues unveiled in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, placing special emphasis on the tension-filled dialogue between citizens and their representatives in New Orleans. It was selected because of its pertinence to environmental justice, which will be a central theme of Taylor’s lecture.
The event is the first in a series of four with the goal of raising awareness of environmental injustices by showing those who suffer its repercussions directly and on a daily basis. It was organized by the University’s Student of Color (SOC) community in partnership with the Green Fund.
“There’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes between the folks that run the Green Fund and the different leaders of the various student of color communities,” said Vice President for Equity and Inclusion and Title IX Officer Antonio Farias. “The goal of that is [to say] let’s get together, let’s create some facilitation.”
The screening was open to the public with free admission, allowing any member of the community to come out and participate in an open conversation about the necessity of environmental justice. The current water crisis in the predominantly black city of Flint, Mich. is one example of the negative consequences of what is now known as environmental racism. The phenomenon exists when those of a lower socioeconomic status are forced to live in areas where air, water, and land pollution are rampant. It is often the case that such individuals are minority citizens.
Cassia Patel ’17, a Green Fund committee member, explained how the student groups selected this particular film for the screening, citing University Sustainability Director Jen Kleindienst as one of their influencers.
“We were brainstorming how to get the hype up for Dr. Taylor’s presentation,” Patel said. “Jen was really helpful, and she gave us a whole list of documentaries and movies… so we pretty much just read through and searched up trailers, and we all agreed pretty much unanimously that ‘Trouble the Water’ was very relevant.”
Hailey Broughton-Jones ’18, an Ujamaa member and a Dwight Greene Intern for the Office of Equity and Inclusion, spoke about how Hurricane Katrina as discussed in the documentary highlights discrimination against blacks in the wake of a natural disaster.
“For me, the point [in the film] where you have Bush in his speech saying, ‘We’re doing a great job, FEMA is on top of it, and we’re doing relief’… that strikes a chord,” Broughton-Jones said. “You have that narrative running parallel to the experience of many poor individuals, who are mostly poor black individuals.”
Patel added how the film increased her awareness of governmental neglect of minorities and its lack of efficiency in relief efforts following an environmental catastrophe.
“I think personally I’ve been a bit more sheltered from how this government completely fails its citizens… but this documentary really surprised and shocked me,” Patel said. “I couldn’t imagine calling an emergency service line and being told no. I couldn’t imagine people going to a U.S. navy base—an empty one—and [having guns pointed at them.]”
Patel also went in-depth with respect to environmental racism as it pertained to the documentary, while alluding to its continuing relevance today.
“From an environmental perspective, looking at the geography [of New Orleans], you wouldn’t put houses there,” Patel said. “These are the wetlands, this is a buffer zone, this is where floods come… this is a space that’s supposed to block the impact of anything coming overseas from the rest of the ecosystem. So if people hadn’t built there, that could have avoided a huge disaster.”
Broughton-Jones wanted attendees to leave the screening with a new perspective of the issues represented in “Trouble the Water,” perhaps allowing viewers to have a better understanding of the topics that Taylor will cover in her lecture.
“Your initial response to a catastrophe should be self-reflection,” Broughton-Jones said. “[The question is] how can I shift my daily experience to address the system of oppression, because it starts there. We’re all talking about these mass incarcerations and environmental racism and who’s been poisoned, and it seems so big and overwhelming, and people think it’s too much. You read your articles, trying to be a learned scholar… but you don’t apply that analysis internally. That’s what drives me crazy.”
At the end, the event organizers recruited more students supporting Wesleyan’s environmental and SOC communities to participate in a Thursday evening workshop with Taylor in Beckham Hall. On Friday, select students will convene for a lunchtime strategizing event to brainstorm goals for the future of environmentalism and social justice.
Taylor’s keynote address “Different Shades of Green” will be held Friday, Jan. 28 at 4:15 p.m. in the Memorial Chapel. Tickets are free but limited and can be picked up at the University Box Office in Usdan.